TULSA, Okla. – With a dramatic pass between cars after the final restart with eight circuits left, 17-year-old Cannon McIntosh won Monday night’s opening preliminary race in the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals at the Tulsa Expo Center Raceway.
Tyler Courtney took a fleeting lead with a slider after the last restart, but McIntosh steered his midget racer between the cars of Courtney and New Zealand’s Michael Pickens to regain the top spot. The Keith Kunz Motorsports driver took the checkered flag in the 30-lap event .708 seconds ahead of Courtney, as the top two drivers locked into Saturday night’s main event.
“Tyler made a great move at the end,” said McIntosh, the pole winner. “I thought he might get us, but I stayed in it and prayed for the best.”
A local favorite from Bixby, Okla., McIntosh secured his second national series victory.
Courtney took a big-picture view of his second-place run.
"The hard part's done,” said the driver known as “Sunshine.” Obviously, you always want to win, but second takes a lot of weight and lifts it off our shoulders. Now we've just got the Race of Champions (Tuesday) to hopefully get a little better and beat these (Keith )Kunz (Motorsports) cars.
“They're obviously the good ones around here. And Aaron (Reutzel) was pretty fast to come from the back to get back to third. I don't think we're far off. We've got a little bit of work to do, but I'm looking forward to tomorrow, when there's no pressure on that race. The pressure for the rest of the week is off now. Everything is good.
"Hat's off to Cannon. He did one heck of a job. He's obviously making the most of his opportunity, and I'm happy for him. He's got a lot of talent, for sure, but we still want to try and beat him when it comes time for the big show Saturday night."
Reutzel took the lead from McIntosh on Lap 5, but that was just the beginning of an adventurous race for the Clute, Tex., driver.
Five laps later, Reutzel lost the top spot when contact with Ryan Leavitt’s car turned Dustin Golobic upside down, blocking the track in front of Reutzel, who drove into the wreck. Reutzel worked his way back to seventh before colliding with Trey Marcham with eight laps to go.
“That’s the second time he’s done that,” an incensed Marcham said after climbing from his car. “If he wasn’t bigger than me, I’d go kick his ass.”
Reutzel was unapologetic.
“With as many cars as I passed, if that’s the only one I wrecked, we had a pretty good night,” Reutzel said during the red flag for the wreck.
And Reutzel wasn’t finished. Over the final seven laps, he charged to third, passing Michael Pickens on the final lap to secure the spot.
Pickens was fourth, followed by Zach Daum.
Monday’s opening preliminary night featured elite talent spread throughout the heats, and from the drop of the first green flag, the top drivers asserted their superiority.
To no one’s surprise, McIntosh scored a third-to-first victory in Heat 1, followed by Dustin Golobic and Pickens—fresh from a successful campaign in the United Truck Parts International Midget Series in his native New Zealand. Pickens stormed from seventh to third in the opener.
NASCAR Xfinity Series full-timer Chase Briscoe, who qualified for the A-Main in 2017, did Pickens one better, racing from seventh to second in Heat 2, won by Sean McClelland. Reutzel, last year’s top performer in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions, dominated Heat 3 from the seventh starting position.
Riley Kreisel and Shon Deskins swapped the top two spots after the start of Heat 4, with Kreisel winning. Courtney, recent winner of the International Series in Auckland, came from fifth to capture Heat 5 from second-place starter and finisher Wesley Smith.
Paul Nienhiser took Heat 6 over Kory Schudy and Daum, who came from sixth to earn the final podium position. Kevin Thomas Jr. won Heat 7 from the pole, beating out second-place starter Brady Bacon.
In the final of four qualifying races, McIntosh won from the sixth position to earn high points honors for the night and claim the pole position for the Monday A Feature. Courtney drove from sixth to second in Qualifying Race 2 to take the second starting spot in the “A.” Reutzel (third from sixth in the first qualifying race), Briscoe (fifth to second in Qualifying Race 3) and Pickens (winner of race 3 from the fifth spot) started the A Feature from the third through fifth positions, respectively.